CHESTER Zoo saw a baby boom in 2016.
New additions to the attraction included a reptile species that pre-dates the dinosaurs, a precious quartet of incredibly rare magpies and a critically endangered Eastern black rhino calf.
Experts point to careful planning, top class facilities, skilled zookeepers and animal staff, first rate husbandry and scientific insight as contributing factors to the baby boom of endangered and unusual species this year.
Here are the top 10 animal babies of the year:
Eastern black rhino calf, Gabe
After a pregnancy lasting 15-months, Ema Elsa, an Eastern black rhino, gave birth to male calf Gabe.
The footage of the birth was caught on CCTV, and showed the youngster landing safely on deep sand on what zoo staff described as the “perfect” birth.
Black rhino populations have dropped by more than 95 per cent over the last 50 years due to a global surge in illegal poaching for their horns, which continues to devastate the species.
The species is critically endangered with their wild numbers currently estimated at just 740 across Africa.
Tim Rowlands, the zoo’s curator of mammals, said: “The footage picked up by our CCTV cameras gave us a rare glimpse of a momentous event – a birth which provides a big boost to the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme (EEP) for the magnificent Eastern black rhino. These animals are on the very brink of extinction and our new arrival is hugely important to the conservation of the species.”
Gabe is now almost one year old and is doing tremendously well.
Rare tuatara hatches
The hatching of an incredible species known as the tuatara was the first ever breeding of the animal outside of its native New Zealand. The species is believed to have pre-dated the dinosaurs.
The rare newcomer arrived weighing just 4.21 grams following a 238 day incubation period.
Reptile experts from the zoo labelled the hatching as an “amazing event” after dedicating several decades to the project.
Found wild only in New Zealand, the tuatara is the last surviving species of its group. Its relatives died out more than 225 million years ago. At that time, the creatures were also found in Europe, Asia, North and South America and parts of Africa and it is not entirely clear how and why the rest of these ancient reptiles became extinct.
Penguin chicks: Munch, Frazzle, Squares and Wotsit
Fuzzy Humboldt penguin chicks – Munch, Frazzle, Squares and Wotsit – were named after their keepers favourite crisps!
Staff at the zoo use a different naming theme each year to help them to keep track of the new chicks, with popular potato snacks getting the nod this time around. Previous topics have included British Olympic athletes, chocolate bars and even the keepers’ favourite curries.
Chester Zoo funds conservation initiatives in South America, where the species is threatened by climate change, rising acidity levels in the ocean and over-fishing – all of which is forcing them to search further from their nests for fish.
Javan green magpie first
The breeding of four rare Javan green magpie chicks gave a huge boost to conservation efforts to save the critically endangered birds from extinction.
It was the first time that the world’s rarest magpie had ever been bred in a UK zoo when the precious quartet hatched in summer.
Conservationists and bird staff at the zoo have started the first ever breeding programme for the birds and are making every effort to try to save the species, which has been trapped to the very brink in its native Indonesian forests.
Andrew Owen, the zoo’s curator of birds, said: “I have had the privilege of working with many rare and beautiful birds, but none are more precious than the Javan green magpie – one of the world’s most endangered species.
“We’ve been working with our conservation partners in Java – the Cikananga Wildlife Centre – for several years. In that time we’ve seen Javan green magpies disappear almost completely from the wild as they are captured for the illegal bird trade. Huge areas of forests that were once filled with beautiful songbirds are falling silent.
“Every individual we breed at the zoo could help save the species as the clock is ticking and time is running out.”
Keepers at Chester Zoo were the first in the world to successfully breed the rare and unusual Montserrat tarantula.
The clutch of 200 spiderlings was a crucial step towards discovering more about the mysterious species.
Native to the Caribbean island of Montserrat, very little information is known about the species and how it lives.
Dr Gerardo Garcia, curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates at the zoo, said: “Breeding these tarantulas is a huge achievement for the team as very little is known about them. It’s taken a lot of patience and care to reach this point.
“The data we’ve been able to gather and knowledge we’ve developed over the last three years since the adults first arrived has led us to this first ever successful, recorded breeding and hopefully these tiny tarantulas will uncover more secrets about the behaviour, reproduction and life cycle of the species.”
Malayan tapir, Solo
Tiny Malayan tapir Solo was the first of her kind to be born at Chester Zoo.
The spotty and stripy youngster was pictured taking her very first outdoor adventure under the watchful eye of mum Margery.
Solo’s arrival is hugely significant as she will add valuable genetics to the European endangered species breeding programme which is working to ensure a safety net population of Malayan tapirs in zoos, ensuring they will not go extinct.
Beautiful Asian elephant calf , Indali Hi Way
The zoo’s family of Asian elephants welcomed the pitter patter of not-so-tiny feet as Christmas came early in the shape of a new calf in late December.
The female calf, named Indali Hi Way by keepers, arrived to 12-year-old mum Sundara after a 22-month gestation.
Richard Fraser, assistant team manager of elephants at the zoo, said the birth was as “great family occasion” and particularly special for one-year-old half-sister Nandita who was witnessing a birth for the very first time.
“There’s always a lot of excitement among the elephants whenever there’s a birth. It’s a hugely positive event for the herd – not least for young Nandita who was experiencing a new arrival for the very first time. Having a new playmate around means that Christmas really has come early for her!”
The new calf gives a huge boost to the endangered species breeding programme for Asian elephants, which are listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List. The species is threatened by habitat loss, poaching, disease and direct conflict with humans.
Conservationists from the zoo have been working in Assam in India for more than a decade on projects that are successfully helping to protect wild elephants and the people who live with them. The zoo now hopes their latest arrival can help raise more awareness of the species – and the threats they are facing.
Han, a critically endangered Sulawesi crested macaque
A baby Sulawesi crested macaque, called Han, was spotted clinging to first-time mum Camilla in May.
The youngster was born as part of a European breeding programme for the critically endangered species of monkey.
The species is highly threatened with extinction in the wild, with fewer than 5,000 estimated to remain on its native island of Sulawesi due to large scale habitat loss and illegal poaching. The zoo’s new arrival increased the number of Sulawesi crested macaques living in its new South East Asian Islands habitat – the biggest development in the history of UK zoos – to 16.
Rare twin Visayan warty piglets
Twin Visayan warty piglets – a species listed by conservationists as critically endangered – made their debut at Chester Zoo in spring.
Recent estimates suggest just 200 warty pigs are left in their native habitat in the Visayan Islands in the central Philippines making them the rarest of all wild pigs. The decline of the species is blamed mostly on habitat loss and hunting.
The new piglets were among the first to be born in the zoo’s new Islands exhibit – the most ambitious expansion in UK zoo history.
Adorable otter pups
Five baby otters were thrown in at the deep end while being taught how to swim by their parents.
Mum Annie and dad Wallace took their new pups for a debut dip in water after emerging from their dens with them for the first time in October.
Asian short-clawed otters, which are found in various parts of Asia from India to the Philippines and China, are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as vulnerable to extinction.
As well as a successful record with breeding exotic otter species, Chester Zoo has also helped fund research and conservation projects in Cheshire to monitor and safeguard native otter populations which are distant relations of the Asian short-clawed species.
See full story in the Chester Leader